Domino

Part 2 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

I’ve never met a person  that actually knows how to play Dominos. 

I’m talking about the REAL “match-the-dots-up” style Dominos – the original purpose for which the inventors intended.  

I know there’s some type of scoring system, which means there’s got to be a legitimate strategy involved, and I’m pretty sure the rules are printed directly on the box. 

So why is it, then, that I’ll probably be struck by lightning before I’ll ever meet someone who knows how to actually play?  

The answer, is simple.  

No matter what the rules say, we all know that the true fun lies in arranging those little rectangles up just right and then watching them fall over in perfect synchronous harmony. 

Take any five-year-old off the street (but maybe only do this metaphorically, cause that’s sort of weird)  and ask them how to play Dominos and that’s exactly what they’ll show you.  

It’s a hypnosis of sorts, watching those little pieces topple. One after the other. An elegant cycle of Cause and Effect and Cause.

But the true beauty lies in knowing that if just one of those blocks has been slightly misplaced, the chain is broken. The entire entertaining process comes to a screeching halt and the fun… is over.  

There’s a special name for this phenomenon in the airline industry, referring to all the tiny ill-foreseen events preceding a plane crash. 

Cascading Failures, it’s called.  

If I had an Indian Name, Cascading Failures would probably be it. 

I can hear it now:

Cascading Failures… get over here and finish your supper!”

Did you clean your room yet, Cascading Failures?”

All jokes aside, I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the Domino effect firsthand in my own life as of late. 

It was a series of unfortunate events that lead, ultimately, to my disappearance. 

My very own set of cascading failures.  

And this, my friends,  is the story of that very first Domino.



September 6, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

An Undisclosed Hospital

Tiny beads of sweat draw a slow and agonizing line down my back.  They pause briefly as they reach the little peaks of my vertebrae, crawling up the miniature bony slopes determinedly, only to hurdle down towards the valleys in between before repeating the entire process over again. 

I fight the urge to awkwardly reach backwards and smother them as I dart around the CT room like a deranged bumblebee, preparing hurriedly for the next scan.

A glimmer of stainless steel in my peripheral vision announces the entrance of another patient, and I barely have time to bark out a quick ‘hello’ before the worker pushing the wheelchair disappears like an apparition. 

I don’t blame him, of course.  He’s already informed me that it’s his first day on the job, and he couldn’t have picked a worse shift to act as his introduction to the medical field.  Poor kid has been running back and forth all night.  

Not that I have much time to grace him with my sympathies.  I’ve also been inundated with back-to-back patients all night.

Despite the annoying back-sweat and complete lack of time for eating, drinking, or peeing, I’m actually quite enjoying myself.  I’ve trained at a Trauma 1 center in downtown Detroit as a student, and had always thrived in fast-paced environments as a server before that.  Busy days make for quick days and for that I am eternally grateful.  

The end of the shift tonight will mark the near-end of my second week at this site.  I’ve already told my dad and mom that I’m quite enjoying this travel assignment.  I’ve already voiced my interest at extending here, should the offer be made.  I’ve never had a travel site NOT ask if I’d like to extend my contract beyond 13 weeks.  Not once in 5 years.

Of course there had been that incident earlier this week, in which a nurse had been choked by a patient in one of our CT rooms –  with her own stethoscope.

And then oddly, that very same day, I had been moving a patient onto our CT table when he suddenly cocked his arm back and struck me sharply in the pelvis with his fist.  The sudden and brash violence had stunned me into silence. 

It hadn’t been until several hours later that I had thought to mention it, and when I finally did, it was more or less regarded as a ‘necessary evil’ that went hand-in-hand with working in our industry.  I mean, I get it. It happens, you know?

Yet while all that had given me pause, the good had continued to outweigh the bad here. Honestly.

For now, I stand on the other side of the CT table and extend my arms out coaxingly to the young girl on the other side of it.  She easily transfers from the wheelchair, as I launch into autopilot and explain the CT process. 

I ramble on as she stares at me with dazed eyes, giving no sign whatsoever of having comprehended a word of my monologue. 

As a precaution, I fold the large seatbelt-like velcro straps over her tiny body and secure them round her waist.  She flinches, slightly, at the contact.  I think nothing of it.

I speed-walk to the control room and shut the door, plop into the flimsy computer chair and roll myself towards the monitor.  with practiced ease, I perform my quick set of preliminary pictures that I’ll be using to set the parameters for the scan. 

But just as I prepare to hit the button and initiate the exam, something on the CT table stirs.  Having caught the motion in my peripheral vision, I quickly hit the “abort” button and squint through the lead-impregnated glass at my patient.  

I leap out of my chair so quickly it goes rolling across the carpet and with a loud thud, and crashes into the counter on the opposing side.

As I tear the door open and run into the room, I am immediately relieved to find that my patient is not having a seizure, as I had originally thought. 

But the relief doesn’t last. 

While she may not be showing seizure-like symptoms, the violent,  involuntary shaking I’d just witnessed from the control room had not been imagined.  My patient’s chest is heaving wildly and she is trembling so wretchedly that I fear she may vibrate right off the table and fall directly to the floor.  

I rush over to her.  Pull her to a sitting position and place my hands on hers.  

Are you alright, ________?‘  I ask.

No response.

‘_______, talk to me.  What’s going on?  Tell me how I can help.  I want to help you, okay?  But I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.

 Her eyes are wide with panic. 

Lips trembling.  Breathing shallow. 

The blood is draining from her face and the hyperventilation seems to be worsening.

And then, I realize it.  Curse myself.

How could I not know? 

I get these weekly.  

It’s a panic attack. 

A full-blown, terrifying, and yet all-too-familiar panic attack.

As the realization dawns on me, a look of recognition crosses my face.

She notices.

Okay,’  I say.  ‘You don’t have to tell me.  I get these too.  I know.  I know.  You just have to breathe through it.  It’s scary.  So scary.  But it goes away after a while. Lets breathe together, okay?  You and I, right now.

We inhale.  We exhale. 

 We inhale.  We exhale. 

Together.  

And slowly, ever-so-slowly, I watch as the blood returns to her face. 

Her breathing slows.  The trembling peters out.

I smile. 

 ‘See?‘  I say, ‘You did that on your own.  Look at how good you’re doing. I’m so proud of you.’

A hint of a smile.  Of trust.  

And then…

From two rooms over, where my coworkers are performing a scan on another patient:

DON’T YOU MOTHERFUCKING TOUCH ME!!  FUCK YOU!!  FUCK YOU I’LL KILL YOU RIGHT NOW YOU MOTHERFUCKERS I’LL SHOOT YOU IN THE GODDAMN FACE!!!!!

My patient and I jump in unison and I watch in horror as she reverts back to the state I’d just spent several minutes coaxing her out of. 

Worse, actually.  The hyperventilation returns and this time, it’s showing no signs of stopping… of slowing. 

God DAMMIT.

Just then, both my coworkers voices ring out in unison. 

Julie!  Julie, we need you! Get. In. Here. NOW!!

I flinch and start off in the direction of the voices. Stop briefly to touch my patient’s hand.

I gotta go for a second.  I’ll be right back, you hear me?  Breathe.  Just Breathe.

As I run backwards out of the room, she stares after me, trying desperately to catch her breath. 

It’s easily one of the worst moments of my professional career.  Watching that trust crumble away. Watching helplessly.

Yet as I tear through the CT control room and catch a glimpse into the second exam room, an even more horrifying event is taking place.  

My male coworker is struggling with a large and overwhelmingly strong, combative patient, to keep him from tumbling to the floor, and he’s dodging blows from every which way to do it. 

The crazed patient’s angry screams are reverberating off the walls of the tiny room, and the sheer violence of it all is almost paralyzing. 

This patient, is hell-bent on killing my coworker. 

Of that, I am sure.

shit shit shit shit shit shit.  

I run into the room. 

And directly into hell.


To be continued….

Intro

A Letter to Me:

Hey there, it’s me. I mean, you. Future you. Future… me? Not sure how to phrase that. It’s not like there’s a precedent for this sort of thing, so bear with me, okay?

It’s been a minute since we spoke, and it’s summer here now. Sticky and humid. Hotter than I remember as a kid. Today is the first day of August.

I know you’re feeling trapped, back there in April. I know that you’re scared – terrified, actually. I know why that is.

It’s the unanswered question that’s been echoing back and forth throughout your mind for weeks, keeping you up most nights, and draining the happiness out of your days. You’ve tried to suppress it. Drown it out. You’ve tried distraction. But the question lingers despite all that. And that’s why I’m writing today – to give you the answer.

Are you ready? Here it is. The answer… is yes.

Yes, it is back. Yes.

Of course, you’ll come to that conclusion on your own in just a few days anyways. You’ll be lying in that bed, inside that dark room with the shades pulled tight, in that house you haven’t left in weeks. You’ll review all the ominous, telltale signs from the previous months, and you’ll come to that dreaded realization. And then you’ll whisper softly into the night.

Hello Darkness, My old friend.

Nothing scares you more. You know what you’re in for. A gradual, seemingly endless torture of the mind and soul. A winding descent down the spiral staircase to hell. A pain so deep that nothing physical could ever compare to it. Inescapable, indescribable mental agony.

In the coming weeks you’ll watch in real-time as your life is slowly and methodically drained of all meaning.

Food will lose it’s taste, so you’ll stop eating it. Books will become meaningless collections of letters and words. Sunlight will be too bright, music, too loud. Conversation, too stimulating.

You’ll wake each morning in a panic, soaked and trembling. Every waking moment will be consumed by anxiety.

You’ll begin to feel your body waste away. The muscles you’d worked so hard to build over the years will shrink from disuse. Your body will begin to reflect the fragile, emaciated condition of your mind.

The same obsessive tendencies that so often drive you to perfection and achievement, will go rogue and become cannibalistic.

You’ll watch, helplessly, as your brain latches on to a negative thought and transforms it into an infinite loop of dark rumination over and over again. You’ll be trapped in these loops for hours at a time.

Every negative thing you’ve ever said or done will present itself in rapid succession, like a Youtube auto-playlist of traumatic, spine-tingling memories.

You’ll clutch the back of your neck in frustration, and crumble into a ball on your bedroom floor. Tiny drops of blood will roll down your neck and onto your collar. You’ll change shirts often, and grind your nails down to nubs to hide the evidence of your descent into madness.

Eventually, your defenses will begin to weaken, and you’ll fall prey to the tiny voices inside your mind. The ones that quietly whisper.

You are worthless. Your are weak. You are a bad person. You should die. Die. Die. Die.

And the more you let them speak, the louder they’ll get. Until there’s nothing left but them. Until there is no truth, except for theirs.

Then, you’ll start to listen, hypnotized by their message. You’ll find yourself nodding along with glazed eyes, agreeing. Yes. Yes, you are right. I see that now. Of course.

The day will come when the voice is so deafening that you can no longer cover your ears to drown it out. Then you’ll start tying knots again. Your fingers know them by heart. No need to look them up anymore. You can do it without thinking. It’s muscle memory. Easy.

But just as you feel the knot tighten against your skin, you’ll think of your family. Contemplating their pain is the only thing preventing you from ending your own.

You’ll summon that tiny bit of strength you have left, and you’ll use it to tell the people you love that the darkness is back.

Up until then, you will have tried to hide it. To protect them from it. To save them the burden. But they’ve seen your darkness before, and they know what it looks like. They’ll have known all along.

I know that right now, you can’t imagine telling people about your struggle. You are embarrassed. You feel weak. You’ve kept it a secret, afraid of what people might say. And because of that, you feel so very alone.

Although it may seem hopeless right now, I promise that one day very soon, you will finally find the strength to speak up. And it all starts with making the decision to fight back. Right now. And you need to let the people who love you, help you.

Your family will rally behind you as you wage this war. Your sisters will never stop texting or calling, even when you can’t bring yourself to call back for weeks.

Your dad will send you short but inspiring messages. You are not alone in this, he’ll say.

Your mom will come to you in your darkest hours and curl up in your bed while you cry. She’ll recount all the times you’ve beaten this before. She’ll remind you that you are a fighter, no matter what the darkness tells you. You won’t believe her, just yet, but that’s okay.

You’ll go to the doctor, again. He’ll change your meds, again. You’ll go through the hellish side effects, again. You’ll throw up and get massive insomnia and frequent headaches. You’ll watch your savings dwindle to nothing as you pay out-of-pocket for the treatment you need. You’ll begin to think it’s all for nothing, but then, slowly, it’ll start to work…

One morning, you’ll wake up with the urge to go for a walk. You’ll climb out of bed and put your shoes on, step outside… and nearly pass out. It’ll have been so long since you’ve been active that you’ll need to rest on the porch before getting to the sidewalk.

Your legs will shake like a newborn baby deer taking its first steps. You’ll return home exhausted and pale. You’ll collapse into bed and cry. Hard. Because of everything you once had. Because of everything you’ve now lost. Because of everything this disease has robbed you of.

But the next day, you’ll go out again. And the day after that too. And pretty soon you’ll be strong enough to walk to the park 2 miles away. Spring will fade into summer, and you’ll even begin to apply for jobs again.

Come June, you’ll try running. You’ll make it 1 mile before nearly collapsing in exhaustion. Again, you’ll go home and cry.

You’ll think about the time you ran 13.1 miles and sprinted across the finish line. You’ll wonder if you’ll ever be able to do things like that again. You’ll ask God why this is happening again. You’ll get on your knees and beg for help. You’ll pray for strength.

You’ll keep up the short-distance runs throughout the job search and therapy. You’ll experience frustration with both. You’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere. You’ll fall prey to duplicitous recruiters and you’ll be lied to by people who don’t have your best interest at heart.

But eventually, you’ll find a new work assignment. Two weeks before you leave for that assignment, you’ll go for another run. Four miles, this time.

As you approach the park that marks your finish line, you’ll look out at the water, stop, and begin to feel the corners of your mouth curl up into a smile.

It’ll feel so foreign, at first. For a brief moment, you’ll lift a corner on that dark veil that’s been draped over your life, and get a quick peek at the beautiful reality that lies underneath.

Then, as you stand there with the warm summer breeze on your face and the smell of the lake in your nostrils, you’ll feel your eyes brimming with tears. You’ll close them, pointedly, and revel in the sensation as the hot, salty drops slide down your cheeks.

No, these won’t be tears of despair or hopelessness. They’ll be ones of relief.

Relief, for the ability to feel anything other than pain, if only for a moment. So much relief.

As you stand there, crying and looking out at the water, a woman will ask if you are okay. You’ll wish you could convey to her the significance of this moment. The struggle it took to get here.

Look at what I’ve just done. What I’ve accomplished. You’ll want to say.

But the truth is that no one will ever understand the vast intricacies of your darkness, nor the strides taken to overcome it, because that darkness is yours and yours alone. Just as the pride is, in having fought it off yet again.

You’ll return home after that run, and you’ll sit down at your computer. You’ll type up this letter.

You’ll address it to your past self – the one that isn’t sure if the darkness is back yet. But when you get to the end, you’ll realize you’re writing for your future self too. Because you’ll know that this battle with the darkness is not even close to being over.

You’ve been fighting it since you were 6 years old, and it has defined your life in so many unexpected ways, both good and bad. Future us will need this message just as much as we do. Maybe even more.

Last of all, you’ll realize that you don’t want to hide this part of yourself anymore. That your struggles have shaped you into a compassionate, empathetic person who wants nothing more than to help others who suffer. But you can’t do that if you never tell anyone about it.

So you’ll do the bravest thing anyone can do when faced with this situation.

You’ll tell the truth. To anyone who will listen.

You’ll finally be free. Truly free. And although it may seem so far away right now, you can and will do it.

So hang in there, kid. And keep fighting. You’ve got this. I promise.

I’m proof.

Love Always,

Your Future Self

PS – On a side note, don’t even bother watching that Game of Thrones finale you’re so excited about. Just trust me.